Packers-Bears Rivalry Takes On A Different Twist

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As the Green Bay Packers face the Chicago Bears for the 170th time in the NFL's most prolific rivalry, Sunday's game will feature a role reversal from the meetings of the last decade.

Since 1995 the Packers have made the playoffs eight times while the Bears have entered the derby only once. This season, however, the Bears sit atop the NFC North division at 8-3 while the 2-9 Packers are bringing up the rear.

"It's sort of like the tables have turned. We're usually the ones going down there, leading the division," said long snapper Rob Davis, who played for the Bears in 1996 and joined the Packers the next year. "We're going to go down and try and spoil their season like they've done to ours in the past."

This year the Bears present an enormous challenge to the Packers. They own the top-ranked defense in both yardage and points allowed, and the unit has drawn comparisons to that of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears team.

With the top-ranked passing defense, much of the Bears' success starts from the pass rush of their front four. They do not blitz frequently, but their defensive linemen loop and stunt to confuse offensive linemen.

"Their defensive ends are rushing the quarterback, getting up field vertically," Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "They're playing about as good as you can play defense right now."

Brett Favre compares the Bears defense to the Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense of three years ago. He noted parallels between defensive ends Simeon Rice and Alex Brown, safeties Dexter Jackson and Mike Brown and linebackers Derrick Brooks and Brian Urlacher.

"They are very similar to Tampa's defense several years ago," Favre said. "There are 11 guys around the ball."

The similarities to Tampa's famed Cover-2 defense should not come as a surprise. Bears head coach Lovie Smith served as the Buccaneers linebacker coach from 1996 to 2000.

As well as Smith has the Bears playing, he still views the Packers as a measuring stick, and a win against them would complete their season.

"Green Bay's our rival," Smith said. "They've been the division champs for a long time. In order to get up there, you need to knock off the champions."

The Packers have won the last three NFC North crowns, but this year's team has more youth than usual. With a roster featuring an NFC-high 13 first-year and rookie players, several players will be experiencing the rivalry for the first time.

Ryan Longwell can relate. His most memorable Bears-Packers game occurred in his first game as a professional player. In 1997 the defending Super Bowl champion Packers opened the season against the Bears on Monday Night Football in Lambeau Field. As the Packers unveiled their championship banner, butterflies churned in Longwell's stomach. He, however, nailed three field goals, including the first Packers score of the season -- a 38-yard field goal.

"It was baptism by fire on the rivalry," Longwell said.

Samkon Gado will receive his baptism this Sunday. A football fan, he knew of the team's rivalry growing up, but playing in such a heated contest will serve as a new experience. He played collegiately at Liberty University. The school, founded in 1971, has not had time to build up classic rivalries like Bears-Packers, which has existed since 1920.

"I am excited," Gado said. "I've never really been part of a rivalry at any level of football before. It's something to get caught up in."

Sherman, who has served as head coach during 10 Packers-Bears games, knows the game will feature a high level of intensity regardless of the teams' records.

"The scenario is different, but the rivalry is the same. That never changes," Sherman said. "It's a huge rivalry, which means an awful lot to a lot of people."

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